The New York Jets seem to have weathered injury concerns at quarterback, but the slippage from their defense might be the bigger concern.
Sunday's matchup with the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars pits them against a team that has become an unlikely playoff contender because of its historically poor division.
New York coach Todd Bowles announced Wednesday that Ryan Fitzpatrick will start under center despite a torn ligament in his left (non-throwing) thumb. There was concern Fitzpatrick could miss time after suffering the injury in last week's 34-20 loss at Oakland, the team's second straight defeat.
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Fitzpatrick wore a special glove on his hand at practice Wednesday and said he feels like he'll be able to play through the injury for the remainder of the season.
"I don't want to put the team in a position where I'm going to go out and hurt the team or turn the ball over or try to be a hero because something is compromised," said Fitzpatrick, whose 86.5 passer rating is the second-highest of his career. "I want to go out there and help the team, so if I can do that without putting me or the team in a compromising position, then I will. And I think I'm going to be able to do that."
Geno Smith also suffered a bruised left shoulder when he came on in relief of Fitzpatrick against the Raiders, but he was a full practice participant Wednesday and will be ready to serve as backup.
Who's under center may not matter for the Jets (4-3) if their defense can't bounce back from an awful performance. They entered last Sunday's contest ranking second in the NFL in total defense (283.2 ypg) before yielding 451 yards to Oakland, their most in 27 games.
"We had some loafs on defense for the first time this year," said Bowles, who added that his staff counted more than 19 missed tackles. "They were minor loafs, but they were still loafs nonetheless and we have to have everybody to the ball."
The Jets suddenly find themselves unable to force turnovers. They had no takeaways in back-to-back losses to New England and Oakland after forcing 15 during their 4-1 start, the second-most in the league. At least against the Patriots, New York limited New England to a season-low 351 yards.
"It is one game, and it's the first time we fell apart like that," Bowles said. "We have to come back together and it can't happen again."
Jacksonville (2-5) snapped a four-game losing streak with a 34-31 victory against Buffalo in London in Week 7. The Jaguars emerged from their bye only one half-game behind Indianapolis and Houston for first place in the dreadful AFC South, which is in a total state of disarray.
The Colts fired offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton this week, while Tennessee cut ties with head coach Ken Whisenhunt. The division is a combined 9-21, and the .300 combined winning percentage is the second-lowest through Week 8 since the 1970 merger, only ahead of the 1984 AFC Central (.219).
Last season's NFC South had the fifth-lowest mark through eight weeks at .317.
The Jaguars also own the NFL's easiest remaining schedule in terms of remaining opponents' winning percentage (.377), giving them an opportunity to compete for a playoff spot.
"I don't think we look at it any differently than if we were 0-7 or 7-0. We treat this game the same way. I think that's the culture and the mindset that everybody has," said Blake Bortles, who is tied for fifth with 15 passing TDs. "So I think obviously we're fortunate enough to be at 2-5 and in the talk, right? The guys do a good job of making sure that this is our championship game just like it is every other week."
Jacksonville's total offense average (342.7) is its highest since 2007, and rookie T.J. Yeldon's emergence has been crucial. Yeldon, who ran for a season-high 115 yards against the Bills, is on pace to become the franchise's first 1,000-yard back since Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011. His 406 rushing yards are the most by a Jaguars player in his first six career games since Fred Taylor hit that number in 1998.
Chris Ivory's 501 rushing yards are the third-most by a Jet through their first five games in a season, but New York has to get its running game going again. The team has averaged 3.3 yards per carry over its last two games after previously averaging 4.5 to rank seventh in the NFL. The Jets are 4-0 when running for 100 yards or more this year.
The Jaguars' 12-game road losing streak is five longer than the league's next-longest skid, which belongs to Washington. They're 3-3 all-time at New York.